The London Festival of Architecture has always proved to be a platform for vigorous debate – both about our theme and about wider issues affecting London. On our Views Pages we give space to a range of contributors including industry leaders, curators, academics, politicians and other less-heard voices to express their views and ideas. These are their opinions and not necessarily those of the Festival. We hope you find them in equal parts inspiring and challenging.

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Jamie Sherman on Boundaries

  • Jamie Sherman is a partner at Kingston Smith. Kingston Smith’s origins go back 95 years and many of our client relationships span decades. Our partners have unparalleled knowledge of compliance needs, international and UK accounting standards (IFRS and FRS102) and SRA Account Rules, as well as general tax planning and financial management. Beyond these essentials is our added value – the business and strategic advisory support we offer in growth, international expansion, profit sharing, employee incentives, and mergers and acquisitions.

 

 

Having attended the 2019 London Festival of Architecture Press Launch recently (with the pleasure of boarding a Thames Clipper service for a trip along the Thames), it seems the LFA team has once again gone all out to deliver a bigger and better festival than ever before. The month of June certainly promises to be busy for all involved in architecture in London and we are once again excited to be benefactors of the festival.

And what a great theme they’ve chosen this year; ‘Boundaries’ can mean many things to people and the programme of events showcases this. From geographic boundaries and borders, to boundaries of diversity in the profession, the events will no doubt cater for all.

 

Throughout 2018/19, our clients have seen many boundaries affecting their practice.  Be it around the level of competition in the industry, attracting and retaining exceptional talent or planning restrictions curtailing their creative ideas, boundaries have made the environment a tough one. While design remains at the forefront of all projects, architects have had to have more of an eye on profitability and pricing has become more of a challenge.

We have successfully helped practices to improve their conversion rates when entering competitions or tendering for new projects. This has the knock-on effect of improving morale and engagement within the practice, making the working environment a vibrant and enjoyable one. We will continue to work with all our clients to break down as many of the boundaries affecting the success of their practice as possible.

There are some excellent events in the programme with some highlights including the tour of Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Architect Pitch event, as well as an array of studio lates showcasing the work of many London practices. The Home Sweet Home Pop Up hosted by TP Bennett certainly sounds intriguing.  Add to this other highlights like the Dulwich Pavilion exhibition and the insightful negroni talks, it promises to be an excellent festival.

 

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

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Borrowed Boundaries

  • As part of the LFA Opening Party, Design Concept Store RB12 kindly decorated the beautiful Minster Building in London. In this essay, Kate Nannery, from the RB12 Design Space & Showroom, explores the theme of Boundaries. 

 

The theme for this years event is Boundaries and we’ve been given the task of offering our thoughts and comments on the subject. On receiving the brief we were initially struck by the restrictive nature of this word but this got us thinking…Every space has boundaries, whether that be the actual structure of the space with dividing walls and area limitations or they could even be design limitations such as compact spaces or haveing to stick to a strict client plan or vision.

 

We were inspired by an idea made popular by the respected gardener and broadcaster Monty Don – best known for presenting BBC’s Gardener’s World and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. In one of his recent programmes, he talks about the idea of ‘Borrowed Landscapes’ within garden environments and we thought that could translate well into the interiors and architecture world.

 

The idea behind borrowed landscapes is that your garden is not restricted by its borders and limits and you can in fact use (or borrow) the landscape around you and factor that into the way you design your space. This way of designing is something we have seen first hand during our travels. In the Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo – home to the Emperor of Japan – this concept has been used. Above the beautiful, perfectly kept gardens filled with the traditional Irises, bamboos and mosses typical of this type of garden, you can see the highrise, metropolis architecture of Tokyo poking over the high stone walls. This gives a beautiful contrast to the space and the two landscapes contradict each other in an unlikely, but heavenly way. It’s interesting to remember that this Garden wasn’t actually built with this intention and since its completion in the late 1800’s the city to Tokyo has been build up around it, borrowing the beauty within its walls.

 

Contrasting landscapes at the Imperial Palace Garden in Tokyo

 

We believe this concept can and has been interpreted into the design of the infrastructure of our cities, homes and green spaces in the UK too. When designers and architects build and plan spaces there is no doubt that they are influenced by the boundaries and the landscape around them. The landscape can weave its rich tapestry of form and colours that frame spaces with a richness you can borrow for your own space.

 

Autumn colours glowing against a dark green hedge, with a depth of vision provided by neighbouring trees and fields in the distance.

 

It is key to start by looking at the bigger picture. What was on the land before and how does the lie of the land affect your design decisions? It’s so important to make decisions that are compatible with the land, both in and beyond your boundaries. Even with the restrictions given by boundaries, we’ve realised that you cannot forget to reflect on what’s beyond your immediate borders and use it to enhance your interior and exterior spaces.

 

The windows of buildings frame your landscape and it is important to consider how this view will change throughout the seasons. The placement of your outdoor furniture should be highly considered, with the best possible views in sight.

 

At RB12 we have beautiful collections which push the traditional boundaries of outside/inside and vice-versa. Fabula Living has just released two new rug designs that can be used in both indoor and outdoor environments. These hand-woven rugs would be a wonderful touch to any transitional area from an interior to an exterior space. Patricia Urquiola designed a range for GAN rugs which was their first exploration into outdoor environments. The collection consists of rugs, mats, roll pillows and cushions that can be arranged in many different ways, creating infinite possibilities for outdoor living. The collection is influenced by the Orient and invites its users to sit back, relax and lay out in the divine summer sun.

 

 

Another brand reaching out of traditional boundaries is the outdoor lighting collection from Masiero. The Masiero R&D team developed a special Drylight® technology which enabled them to create and offer a complete range of outdoor lighting but in stunning chandelier forms. You wouldn’t believe it, but these luxurious-looking lights are highly durable, waterproof but still light and easy to install. Another excuse to get out in the garden, even at night.

 

 

We’ll leave you with a quote from iconic Dutch landscape designer and architect, Piet Oudolf;

 

“A building needs green. Plants have a human scale and change over time, every day you see something different and that’s stimulating for a lot of people.”

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Frida Escobedo Designing for Maestro Dobel

How Frida Escobedo joined forces with Maestro DOBEL® Tequila to break boundaries and elevate the tequila drinking experience.

Kindly sponsoring cocktails at the LFA reception at Burlington Arcade on Friday 14 June, Maestro Dobel® tells the story of their collaboration with world-famous architect Friday Escobedo. Maestro DOBEL® is renowned in its homeland Mexico for its family of ultra-premium tequilas. Eleven generations of masters, makers and rule breakers inform its craft.

As part of this unique pairing, acclaimed Mexican architect Frida Escobedo conceived and designed a set of exclusive drinking vessels, brought to life by the eminent stone artist, Mexico City-based Juan Fraga.

Frida was inspired by thejícara, a cup made from the fruit of the calabash tree and traditionally used for drinking tequila. Each of the three spherical vessels were then masterfully hand-carved from obsidian, a naturally occurring glass formed by the rapid cooling of volcanic lava unearthed in the ‘ring of fire’ region of Mexico, where Dobel tequila is produced.

Experimental ideas, together with an innate respect for tradition, were also a driver for Escobedo during the design process. Against the vibrant backdrop of her native Mexico City, with its thriving modern art scene and rich cultural and culinary heritages, she explored the notion of connection to people and the ever-changing landscape by way of a mythical circle.

Frida Escobedo explains: “We sourced golden obsidian—a deep black stone with subtle gold nuances that appear only when touched by light—in honour of the world’s first Cristalinotequila Maestro Dobel Diamante. For Dobel Humito, we used a slightly translucent, silvery grey obsidian to reflect the tequila’s smoky attributes, while the smallest vessel is hand-carved using red obsidian—a rare mélange of red and black, for the rich amber liquid that is Dobel Añejo.”

The one-of-a-kind vessels, which were designed and overseen by Frida Escobedo Studio and realised by Fraga, required even more skill than usual to produce.

“Developing the vessels was part of a long process – one which began with an 8-hour drive from Mexico City to the Sierra of Guadalajara, in search of rare ‘rainbow’ obsidian as this contains a broader colour range,” explains Fraga.

“Each cup took around three days to craft.”

 

In the UK, Escobedo is perhaps best known for her bold, latticed roof-tile installation for the Serpentine Pavilion in 2018. To date, she is the youngest architect to have received this prestigious commission and her work continues to spark cross-cultural discussions wherever it is shown.

In February 2019, Escobedo was presented with an International Fellowship, one of the industry’s highest accolades, from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

The first series of 30 limited-edition sets are available to purchase from Harvey Nicholsand are also being presented as part of a special serving ritual in some of London’s most exclusive bars, including the Mandarin Bar, at the Mandarin Oriental.

More information here.

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Brixton Boundaries, a community project by Squire & Partners and AWMA

  • AWMA are an experimental design collective whose work tells stories through art and architecture. Squire & Partners is an award winning architecture and design practice with a reputation for architecture informed by history and place. Both are based in Brixton.

 

Boundaries form part of our everyday experience with positive, negative, physical and emotional characteristics that contribute to shaping communities. Whilst some help us feel safe and secure, others act as barriers to growth and inclusion, affecting people from a global scale down to local neighbourhoods.

As both a small and a large design practice in Brixton, AWMA and Squire & Partners have independently initiated projects designed to engage local people through architecture and design. For this year’s London Festival of Architecture and its theme of Boundaries, we have collaborated together to explore the particular experience of boundaries to the Brixton community.

Brixton is sometimes described as a global village with its complex history and convergence of cultures, but has retained a strong community and a distinct identity which sets it apart from other London neighbourhoods. We were interested in exploring how architecture, the built environment and design contribute to the perception of boundaries.

Within the design profession, both physical and emotional boundaries play an important role in our work. Unlike physical boundaries which are documented and continually revised through legislation to keep pace with urban development, emotional boundaries are nuanced and less tangible, continually shifting and evolving. Emotional boundaries need to be continually re-assessed and updated in the way we and others perceive them.

A boundary is defined as a line that divides, creating a barrier which can be seen as rigid and limiting, and may incite fear and misunderstanding of what lies on ‘the other side’. As designers working in the community, we aim to blur boundaries to be more flexible and fluid, creating opportunity for interaction which in turn promotes understanding and respect for each other. One of the most effective and inclusive ways of achieving this is through the exchange of ideas in an open dialogue.

We invited 30 members of the Brixton community to a workshop to explore how people perceived specific local boundaries which shaped their experience of the area. The lively discussions highlighted boundaries common to all ages and backgrounds – particularly physical barriers in terms of Brixton’s town centre such as railway lines/arches or parks –  and others which only applied to some –  examples include age, outward appearance, religion or race. Traffic, noise, crowds and darkness were also important barriers to feeling comfortable. We discussed why people may not feel comfortable speaking to their neighbours, and how walking your dog is a foolproof conversation starter!

 

 

Following the workshop, we sought to share the findings and expand the dialogue into the wider community as a visual and interactive installation.

Brixton Boundaries comprises an immersive installation in five parts, revealing views and experiences through illuminations, mapping and film. A large scale word map on the window of the Department Store acts as a graphic representation of issues raised in the workshop, and poses questions to passers-by on Brixton’s unique boundaries.

Once inside The Department Store, an enclosed space features sixteen illuminated boxes projecting the ‘voices’ of participants, creating a web of overlapping perspectives on ceiling and walls, which provoke questions about how and why we experience boundaries, and ways we might be able to overcome them. The workshop is represented with a looping short film documenting the event and interviewing individual members of the group on their findings.

 

 

The final two elements of the installation encourage visitors to add their opinions and experiences to an illustrated local map using bespoke stencils, and a Boundaries graffiti wall which will evolve throughout the nine-day event.

This week we are hosting community and school groups to continue the explorations around boundaries, and look forward to seeing how their views shape and evolve the display.

For us it was important to cultivate ongoing conversations to inform our roles as designers to create shared spaces in our cities with in-built opportunities for overlapping narratives and discussions. This will help to form a future where boundaries include and empower instead of limit and exclude. It is these spaces where the unexpected happens – the chance encounter, friendship, a new idea. These are the spaces that need to be designed, culturally activated and cultivated to allow open conversation and dialogue to flourish.

 

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Fluid Boundaries – community contemporary dance performances responding to architectural landmarks.

LFA Patron, ft’work, is partnering with leading contemporary dance company Shobana Jeyasingh Dance in public dance responses to the festival theme of ‘boundaries’, bridging the gap between physical, social and cultural barriers. ft’work founder, Clare Richards, has been watching the choreographer and amateur dancers in rehearsal.

 

On consecutive days I visited rehearsals in Bethnal Green with senior dancers from Green Candle Dance Company, and Year 7 and 8 children form Oaklands School. What struck me first was the ability of the choreographer, Saju, to co-create complex dance movements with two such contrasting groups. Within a very short time they learnt and made their own a series of routines, in which they interact with each other and invisible boundaries. Pairs of Green Candle dancers crossed the room interweaving in an out of each other’s interlocked arms, forming complex knots. One of them said “it’s not getting in to these positions that worry me, it’s getting out again. Do you know hoe old I am…?”. This project proves that you’re never too old to dance.

 

At Oaklands School the session started with the levels of noise and chaos typical of any bunch of 11 and 12 year olds. Yet with a mixture of energy, enthusiasm and encouragement, Saju quickly had the boys staging stylised fights and the girls creating beautiful routines partly form their own imagination. I was amazed by the effect the dancing seemed to have on their concentration and poise and their pride was obvious as they performed their routines to each other.

 

For some of the girls, just to dance is to cross a significant boundary. But to dance in a public City square, to a packed lunchtime audience, is to cross so many more. I’m absolutely sure they will never forget this experience. As one of them said, “I never thought I’d get the chance to do something like this”.

 

They hope to see you there.

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Breaking Boundaries and Fostering Collaboration

 

  • Andy Downey, one of the directors at Elliott Wood, explores what it means to break boundaries and foster collaboration in the new Elliott Wood powered space – “The Building Society”.

 

The rate of change affecting the environment and society today is huge. System change is urgent if we want future generations to thrive. And for new and different ways of thinking to truly flourish, we need to break all unnecessary boundaries and foster collaboration between professions, especially in the built environment. Earlier this year, in the first video of our Engineering a Better Society series, we spoke to Peter Murray, Chairman of New London Architecture, about the exciting changing relationship between architects and engineers:

“When I started out as an architect, it was generally thought that the architect did the drawings and then the engineer worked out how big it ought to be. But that changed! The engineer is brought in right at the beginning of the problem solving and I think that’s really important. Bringing together all these people to deliver benefits to society right across the board.”

By asking the urgent questions and bringing teams together to explore solutions, we can craft better buildings and help inform policies to shape a better, more inclusive and sustainable world. We know we can’t solve problems in silos, no one has all the answers on their own.

 

Inspired by the scale of change to come, we have founded The Building Society – a co-working space for thinkers, designers and makers in the built environment. Supported by a member network and programme of talks, events and learning opportunities we can enable future thought and encourage radical, effective collaboration across disciplines and organisations. We want to facilitate creative and technical sharing and elevate industry knowledge – as well as creating a network where new ideas find their collaborators, and inspiring projects can be realised.

We are committed to opening up our industry for better collaboration, for a better society. Join us!

 

Newly refurbished by Derwent London and located in the heart of London’s Fitzrovia, The Building Society, powered by Elliott Wood, provides 12,000 sq. ft of flexible co-working space. To discuss membership options, please contact info@thebuildingsociety.org

 

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Alessandro Chiola on Boundaries

 

  • Alessandro Chiola is an architect at BPTW, one of our Festival Club members. His piece was one of 2 chosen entries selected by the practice following an internal ‘Boundaries’ competition run for its staff. In this essay, Alessandro discusses the boundaries facing housing estates today, and the role of regeneration projects in overcoming these.

 

Social housing estates are not always well-integrated into their context, and in many cases, are configured as islands, separated from the surrounding area. This isolation of public estates can be traced back to two main ‘boundaries’:urban & architectural, and social & mental.

Urban & architectural boundaries

Every estate is shaped by a different array of design decisions, many of which have a lasting impact on how isolated these neighbourhoods become. These include:

  • The estate’s proximity to the inner-city
  • A lack of strategic connection with the surrounding urban grain
  • A sense of mono-functionality, which leaves the neighbourhoods as ‘dormitories’
  • A lack of permeability, as often only residents are interested in engaging with the estate
  • Infrastructure, including streets, bridges and railways, as well as other physical barriers, such as gates and fences
  • Topographical barriers, such as a difference in level or unsuccessful landscaping
  • Spatial continuity and landscape coherency, such as usability and land use

 

Social & mental boundaries

“[…] Since council housing has come to mean housing for the working class, the wall exists unbroken throughout every estate in the land. The wall may be invisible […] The wall in the head is built up slowly over the course of a lifetime […] If your family and friends all live in the same estate, that’s a little wall built for you right there. If you have links outside it […] you’ve one less wall to knock down.”

In her book ‘Estates:An Intimate History’, Lynsey Hanley gives an overview of the difficulties that many people living in council estates, face today. Born and raised in a Birmingham council estate, she tells the story of the estate and the people who live there from her own experience, challenging the stigma that otherwise surrounds the idea of council estates. Hanley goes on to describe how the absence of permeability or a relationship with the rest of the city often creates segregation within the estate itself, with the residents living in isolation and having little involvement in daily neighbourhood life.

A lack of social diversity may also have an impact on the isolating nature of estates. With these communities often finding themselves on the edge of society and struggling to have an active voice in local decision making, the estate environment further limits the social exchanges and activities that expose people to new experiences, deepening the rift between the estates and the nearby cities. To tackle this isolation, it is therefore not only the physical boundaries that need to be overcome, but also the mental boundaries that have become ingrained within the estate. This can take the form of promoting reciprocal interaction and encouraging people to engage and interact their whole neighbourhood, improving the functionality of estates and their connections with the city and in turn reducing the likelihood of these becoming a separated enclave.

For this to be successful, housing regeneration projects must approach this urban and social isolation from a wider perspective, which considers the surrounding context. Prioritising the transition between public, semi-public and private spaces, creates the opportunity to re-establish streets and routes as connections, creating new public areas as a setting for organic encounters. This offers a sense of openness, social mix and new uses and activities ,which helps welcome residents from other neighbourhoods to these estates. Creating a meaningful reason to engage with these council estates will eventually help to break down the stigmas surrounding them.

 

Image: BPTW’s ongoing regeneration of the Heathside and Lethbridge Estate, Lewisham© Ben Luxmoore.

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Charles Holland on Boundaries

 

  • Charles Holland is an architect and lecturer who was one of the leading partners of the seminal collective FAT (Fashion, Architecture, Taste). In this essay, Charles shares his thoughts on our our 2019 theme of boundaries.

 

My former practice Fat was known as a cross-disciplinary practice, meaning that we worked across the boundaries of architecture, art and design. The urge to transcend categories and dissolve boundaries reflected an institutional critique of architecture, an idea that it had become closed, hermetic and disconnected from wider culture. There was also a sense that discrete disciplines represented a form of privilege in themselves and that maintaining them also propped up certain forms of social and cultural vested interest.

 

Today, when architects are increasingly marginalised from the processes that shape the built environment and when – infamously – society has become suspicious of ‘experts’, such an internal critique seems less pressing. The body of knowledge and the specific skills that architects bring appear to me to be underused but absolutely vital. Once we laughed at the protection of title and celebrated projects called The Death of the Architect. Now I feel that a post-structuralist deconstruction of institutional privilege feels suspiciously like a hollow victory.

 

How can one respect disciplinary boundaries and yet avoid conservative re-trenchment? I don’t wish to swing the pendulum back to a form of cosy establishment. But architects have become perhaps too comfortable writing their own obituaries. In architecture school we often encourage a level of ambition that extends way beyond anything an architect might genuinely hope to influence. And we encourage the trying on of roles: politician, planner, fiction writer, outer space explorer.

 

The writer and teacher Mark Cousins once labelled architecture as a ‘weak discipline’ meaning that it frequently looks outside itself for ideas. It sometimes defines itself through an appropriation of what it is not. But right now it feels important to try once again to define what architecture is and what it is important about that. Disciplinary boundaries can be a trap. But they are also ways to hold onto forms of knowledge and protect things that we value. Whilst being alert to privilege and alive to possibility, we should also reassert forms of knowledge that no one else brings. Viva architecture!

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Sainabou Jack on Boundaries

 

  • Sainabou Jack is an architect at BPTW, one of our Festival Club members. Her piece was one of two chosen entries selected by the practice following an internal ‘Boundaries’ competition run for its staff.

 

“‘Boundless’ is a poem inspired by some of my personal experiences studying and working in architecture as a BAME woman. The intention of the poem is to highlight some of the limitations and struggles faced by minority groups within the construction industry; issues which have recently been highlighted through campaigns such as the LFA’s own Elephant Campaign, and brought to light in Building Magazine’s recent diversity survey published last month. I hope to draw attention to the need for a more inclusive environment in which people do not feel disadvantaged or discriminated against based on their race, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation” Sainabou Jack

 

 

‘Boundless’

 

I am not defined by the boundaries

Set to exclude rather than include;

The boundaries that are designed

To keep out my class, my gender, my kind;

The boundaries so constricted that

They only allow room for a few;

The boundaries that only let in the (stereo)typical member of the Club

Where most look a certain way and in turn look at me a certain way;

The boundaries that constantly remind me I’m different

Even when I try to fit in;

The boundaries that make it okay

To be observed, touched and poked as though I was alien;

The boundaries that make it not okay

For me to express myself, my culture, my ideas…

 

I am not defined by the boundaries

That separate instead of unite;

The boundaries that make me stand out

As the odd one out;

The boundaries that see me as emotionless enough

To warrant the stares and inappropriate comments;

The boundaries that deem my name

Too foreign to be hired;

The boundaries that acknowledge and reward

Based on intrinsic identity instead of skill;

The boundaries that put me back in my place

Whenever I strive to progress;

The boundaries that make me think twice before writing these words

For fear of being further sidelined…

I am beyond these boundaries.

 

Image: Boundary sketch by Sainabou Jack

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Emily Gee on Boundaries

 

  • Emily Gee is Regional Director for Historic England,London & South East. In this essay, Emily shares her thoughts on our our 2019 theme of boundaries.

 

At Historic England we talk a lot about how London’s cherished views belong to everyone, whether they are rich or poor, local or visiting, in the heart or on the outer reaches of the capital. There are no boundaries to taking in the free and magical views of London’s landmarks from surrounding hills, public parks and bridges. It is a heart-lifting message: that glimpses of our diverse places of worship, learning, civic and royal power can enrich our souls and connect us to the city. But this is not a wistful allusion to the opening scenes of Mary Poppins, it a call to safeguard what is fundamental to London’s specialness and to what opens London up to the world.

 

This translates into policy by reminding authorities to consciously value London beyond their own borough boundaries. The London View Management Framework encourages a strategic approach to managing the capital’s skyline for our collective benefit. For example, people climb to the top of Parliament Hill – from where Sylvia Plath observed “the city melts like sugar” – to spot the places that mean something to them. In views like these we get a sense of London belonging to everyone.

 

We all have local scenes that mark our own London boundaries and while church spires historically signified the bounds of each parish, we now have a broader architectural tapestry to define our urban neighbourhoods. I know I am leaving Somers Town when I check the time on the British Library’s elegant clock tower, and know I’m entering the City when the silvery dragons and crests tell me so. These kinds of boundary structures mark our own geographies – and remind us how history and architecture can define London places. This is why high streets are so important to the identity of neighbourhoods, they form a central spine, drawing people to gather, interact and participate in civic life. Places also mean more when they respond to history and take their name and their route from historic field boundaries, rivers and earlier settlements, as told in Gillian Tindall’s The Fields Beneath.

 

One of our roles is to advise on what is officially ‘of special architectural and historic interest’ via the National Heritage List. We explore the boundary between old and new history with the listing of special modern buildings that capture the very best of London’s recent past, and we seek to broaden the narrative of historic interest through recognising stories of diverse communities.  We also work to ensure there are fewer boundaries to the List by making it accessible online and encouraging a range of contributions. A project with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust has young architects adding deeper meaning to List entries by illustrating later uses and broader histories. And when we resist boundaries and broaden access – to views, history, understanding of significance and good places with history at their heart – London is a richer place for us all.